The Red Bull Art of Motion international freerunning competition made its return in October, after a year’s gap while they found a suitable alternative location to Santorini. And so we journeyed to Matera, an ancient city in southern Italy that architecturally shares many similarities with the Greek island, although a very different aesthetic.

Matera is mostly grey-brown stone and tiles, rather than the typical white facades and terraces of Santorini. We attended AOM for the first time in 2017, and it was one of the best parkour events we had ever been to so we had high expectations for this trip.

On arrival at Bari airport, the closest to Matera, we met a load of other athletes who had also just got there – Pasha Petkuns, Didi Alaoui, Hazal Nehir, and Joe Henderson to name a few. Red Bull had asked Benj to cover the post-run interviews for the livestream, so he had to go straight to some meetings about that. Meanwhile, the rest of us dropped our bags off at the apartment and went out to train in the afternoon’s remaining light.

The only downside to having hundreds of parkour athletes descend on the same city is that the first day is mostly spent just saying hello to people! We quickly got distracted as we walked past the Red Bull athletes’ hotel, finding a load more familiar faces. We spent what was left of the light chatting with them all at the side of the road.

Eventually, we gave up our hopes of training and decided to get some Italian pizza instead. The huge crazy dinners are one of the best aspects of Art of Motion, and the look on waiters’ faces when you request a table for twenty is always funny.

The next day was the on-site qualifiers. After an unsuccessful quest to find eggs for breakfast (why does nowhere in Matera do eggs?), we headed on down to the course. This seems a good point to clarify that none of us has anything against competition, and we love seeing people throw down. So why don’t STORROR members compete? We get this question a lot.

The main reason is we don’t enjoy the stress of it. What we enjoy most is making videos, so we put our energy into that. But also, our styles of movement are not particularly well suited to the format so it would be difficult for any of us to get through. Speed and skill competitions are more up our street, there’s much greater chance you’ll see us giving them a go, although we don’t have much motivation to enter those either. Videos are our thing, not competitions.

The qualifiers proved very interesting. It's a jam format. Everyone who puts their names on the list gets bundled into groups of ten. Those groups of ten athletes get ten minutes to train on the course while the judges are watching. And Toby surprised us by deciding to challenge himself and take part in the qualifiers for fun. You can see his runs on his Instagram.

From all heats, the judges pick their twelve favourites to see a run from afterwards. Then the top three best runs from men and two from women go through to the main competition.

Notable highlights from the jam section included young unknown Stefan Dollinger, with massively hard tricks. And a strange Italian, who spent his whole heat making it look like he was going to go for a huge standing jump but never actually did. Toby did some really creative parkour flow that garnered big applause. Dom Di Tomasso is always fun to watch, he did a super high cat pass front into a flowerbed, and some nice dive rolls. Bartje van der Linden hit up a disgusting running gainer gap from a stride. And Hazal stood out for the women, with super strong flow and technical movement.

But hey, reading what happened isn’t nearly as good as watching it! If you’d like to see our highlights, check out our upload that Friday, exclusive to YouTube channel members (look for the JOIN button): Red Bull Art Of Motion Qualifiers.

At the end of the on-site qualifiers, going through were Hazal Nehir and Camila Stefaniu for the girls, plus Stefan, Dimitris Kyrsanidis and Joshua Malone for the guys. They would compete on the Saturday against those who had qualified via online submissions, together with the winners of previous competitions, making a total of twelve men and six women.

We spent the intervening days training around Matera. Spots were good and we found some fun challenges, but the difficulty with such an ancient city is anxiety about brickwork. There was a strange vibe on the first day training as we were hearing about and seeing so many bails, some due to the unsafe bricks but some not.

There was a clip circulating of someone trying to stick a roof gap and coming up short, so falling back down the gap and shattering his elbow. Alexander Titarenko, who had won AOM in 2017, had a horrific accident during practice and put himself out of the competition. There were a few minor things in our own sessions, and all of this must have affected the competitors’ confidence somewhat.

On finals’ day, it seemed like Red Bull hadn’t thought about the huge numbers of spectators who would be there, as there was no designated area from which to view the competition. Fortunately, because the course is in a sort of valley, we all managed to climb onto roofs and walls on the other side, which gave a pretty good view, albeit far away. It was great to turn around and see the whole community perched on edges and rooftops. There was also the constant threat of rain early on, some very dark clouds were looming overhead, but luckily it passed when the competition started.

The course was actually very good. We’d had the opportunity to test it out the night before, to help the camera men get used to filming parkour. It was fun, the roof gap was a good size for people to send some crazy stuff, and the cascading blocks were a great route for flip combinations. The participants are judged on five criteria - difficulty, execution, flow, creativity, and overall impression.

For us, Ed Scott, Didi Alaoui and Archie Aroyan were the ones to watch. I think Archie was unlucky, in that he was placed in a very strong heat and potentially would have got through in a different one. Ed is an absolute competition machine and always looks strong, especially on this kind of course. Didi has competed many times and has so much experience, he is also looking in his best shape ever this year, and his submission was incredible.

All three of these guys had really stand-out first runs; the level of performance was out of this world. I still can’t quite believe Didi’s combo into cartahara! And Sydney Olson was our obvious top pick for the girls. Definitely shows the competitive side of the sport is starting to mature, people are training for the format and really understanding what the judges are looking for.

In the end, the top men's places were awarded to 1) Didi Alaoui (Morocco), 2) Edward Scott (UK), 3) Dimitris Krysanidis (Greece). While for the women it was 1) Sydney Olson (USA), 2) Aleksandra Shevchenko (Russia), 3) Silke Sollfrank (Germany). If you want to see for yourself, check out our coverage on YouTube: World's Best Freerunners - AOM 2019.

It’s a shame Red Bull doesn’t do a speed or skill format as well, although I guess we have NAPC for that. As far as style goes, AOM is the best place to see the cutting edge of the sport and it’s definitely worth watching it in person if you can.

I don’t think Matera is quite as good a location as Santorini, but considering everything, this was definitely the best AOM ever. However, the locals weren’t too happy to see their sleepy town filled with hooded youths so I doubt it will be held in Matera again. If that's the case, I hope Red Bull can find a new and equally exciting location for next year. I can’t guarantee any of us will compete but we will definitely be there to watch, support, and make some videos!

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